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Best Before and Expiry Dates for Food and Drugs

When it comes to expiration dates, there is a lot of confusion between the dates listed on food packages. This misunderstanding can cause you to get sick from eating foods with high levels of bacteria. Between “Use by,” “Best if used by,” and “Sell by” dates, people aren’t always clear on the differences between them and what they mean.

Most of us with gastrointestinal maladies such as IBD (Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis), reflux disease (GERD), IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome), or one of the myriad others, know from first-hand experience the price paid for ignoring warnings about taboo foods or inappropriate drug regimes. We may pay the price in pain, with increased lethargy, inadequate nutrient absorption, diarrhea, fever, disorientation, and fatigue. These are the penalties for indulgence in the forbidden.

But what about those foods and medicines that are okay; the ones you need and that your body can handle? What can you be doing to ensure that these foods remain nutritious and safe, and that the drugs remain effective? Read the labels. Pay particular attention to the “best before” or “expiry” dates. These indicators of shelf life can help to safeguard your health and provide some assurance that okay will really be okay.

What do the dates on the labels mean?
Food – “Best before” Date
The durable life dating [“best before” date] of food products is defined by the Canadian Food and Drugs Act and Regulations. Durable life is the period, starting on the day a food is packaged for retail sale, that the food will retain its normal wholesomeness, palatability, and nutritional value, when stored under conditions appropriate for that product. Dating information and instructions for proper storage are required on most foods, which have a shelf life of 90 days or less.

It is up to the manufacturers and retailers to determine the durable life of foods they manufacture and sell. The dating information they provide indicates quality not food safety.

Any pre-packaged food product having a durable life of 90 days or less must have a durable life date on the label, expressed as the “best before” date, and instructions for proper storage. Look on the label for the statement “best before” coupled with the month and date, for example, best before OC 15. It may not say “best before” if there is an explanation of the significance of the durable life date somewhere else on the label. Expiry date is not a term used with food in other countries. The only exception is infant formula, which does carry an expiration date.

Products packaged at the retail store with a durable life of 90 days or less may be labeled with either a durable life date and any necessary storage instructions, or a packaging date and accompanying durable life information, on the label or on a poster next to the food. Fresh fruits and vegetables are exempt from this labeling but meat must follow the regulations

Should I throw out food past the “best before” date? The durable life date is valid only for unopened products. Once opened, the product should be consumed at once. Foods susceptible to spoilage should not be consumed if the “best before” date is passed. Even if a food shows no signs of spoilage, it can harbour pathogenic microorganisms that can cause foodborne illness. Foods that are not susceptible to spoilage can usually be consumed past their “best before” date. These foods may have lost some of their original flavour and nutritional value. Use your senses (sight, smell) and common sense to decide if it is appropriate to eat it.

Drugs – “Expiry” Date
For drugs and natural health products, an “expiry date” indicates the shelf life and the stability of the product. Read the label to make sure the expiry date hasn’t passed. Like foods, drugs and supplements should not be used after their expiry dates.

Should I throw out drugs past the “expiry” date?
For the vast majority of drugs, the legislation only stipulates the testing procedures that must go into determining shelf life, leaving it up to the manufacturer to submit what they believe to be a reasonable variance in the potency and efficacy of each product. The approved shelf life of a specific drug, therefore, may be based on any of a wide variety of criteria, including stability of active ingredients over time or maintenance of potency beyond the expiry date by a high percentage of the product.



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